DUP canvass guidelines are leaked

Diane Dodds (centre) with other DUP members including First Minister Peter Robinson and Minister for Trade Arlene Foster.
Diane Dodds (centre) with other DUP members including First Minister Peter Robinson and Minister for Trade Arlene Foster.

The DUP’s detailed briefing notes for its electoral canvassers have been leaked.

The document, which runs to more than 3,500 words, gives answers to questions about everything from the state of the NHS to the reasons for the party’s U-turn on the Maze peace centre.

The guidelines, which have been obtained by the News Letter, begin with basic etiquette for canvassers, such as never treading on a lawn or raising one’s voice.

Under the heading ‘possible issues’, there are numerous answers to potential questions.

Two of the longest sections — one entitled “You are destroying the health service” and another on the ‘comfort letters’ to IRA fugitives — appear to indicate the areas in which the party expects to be questioned in detail.

The section on health claims that Stormont’s health department “has got the best deal in the United Kingdom during the time the DUP has been the largest party” and nine bullet points follow the statement “The benefits of our approach to health issues are shown in the following statistics...”

It states that welfare reform is “not of our choosing”. And, in response to the expected claim by some voters that “The education system is in chaos”, canvassers are urged to highlight that “The issue of selection has been resolved: we secured academic selection in law as part of the St Andrews Agreement.”

The document blames the Good Friday Agreement’s creators for the absence of a Stormont opposition, which it says the DUP supports, although the party is “sensible enough to realise” that it needs the “consent” of other parties for this to happen.

The briefing notes also make clear that the party’s canvassers have been instructed to urge voters to transfer to other unionist candidates in the European election. It advises party canvassers to tell voters: “In this election we are asking you to put a number one beside our candidate and then transfer your vote to other unionists.”

The document also indicates that the party is asking members who are not public figures to write letters to newspapers to praise the party. It says: “Positive letters highlighting the good work of the Assembly or the party are relatively novel. The party has a good message to sell, so letters doing so from non-elected members of the public are more likely to be printed than a party press release.”

Analysis by Sam McBride

Political parties do not like leaks — especially at election time.

But many aspects of the DUP’s canvass guidelines probably reflect well on the party, with their common sense advice to respect voters’ property, not to be aggressive and to attempt to answer genuine questions.

But, as with the recent leak of an NI21 candidates list, the mere fact that information has been passed outside the party indicates internal unhappiness and will build some distrust.

Last year DUP councillor Jenny Palmer broke new ground by publicly attacking a senior party colleague but remaining as a member, something at variance with the party’s historic iron discipline. There is no indication that such willingness to air party rows is becoming common in the party, but it is becoming more frequent.

* Read the full DUP canvassing guidelines here - http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/politics/latest/dup-s-election-canvassing-guidelines-in-full-1-6026453